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Fix up Dress Smart?

 

Brits absolutely adore talking about the weather. We’ve taken one of the most disappointing aspects of our little isle and made it an opportunity for friendly bus-stop chatter forecasting the sun and commiserations over the inevitable rain. When that long-awaited sunny spell finally arrives, we leap wholeheartedly into our summer wardrobe. The formal blues and greys of our winter wear shifts into culottes and sandals in decidedly brighter colours. But as we wave a happy goodbye to blazers and long sleeves does our work ethic weaken? Does removing a jacket and tie suggest that productivity will hit a low? Will wearing sandals affect an employee’s ability to negotiate a deal?

Business consultant Andrew Jensen, who has studied the correlation between office workwear and productivity, says that just as managers disagree on the issue of attire, there has been an equivalent lack of consensus among researchers: “It comes down to office environment. In a more relaxed environment, casual dress works and doesn’t have much impact. In a more traditional environment, casual dress does have an impact, especially when employees go too far.”

While sunny days definitely put most of us in an infinitely better mood, it can also be suggested that what we wear affects our focus, motivation and frame of mind. Dr. Karen Pine, Fashion Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire says: “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in way consistent with that meaning.”

The suggestion being that wearing a suit will help an individual get their “game face” on and encourage them to focus. The same person will feel fitter in sports gear, or a lot more carefree when donning a pair of board shorts and flip flops. I’d suggest that it also has the potential to affect our work-life balance – if you wear “workwear” at work and “casual” at home, maybe that helps to shift your attention away from the office and on to some well-deserved down time when you clock out. On the other hand Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner states that there’s no scientific study to suggest that attire affects productivity – “so much of it depends on your gender, your age, and your job title. It’s very individualistic.”

It’s questionable whether focus can be directly connected to stress. If an employee is less stressed, are they then less focused? Consider organisations that have casual dress down Fridays, shirts and smart shoes exchanged for trainers and jeans. When an employee dresses as they want, they are empowered to make decisions to express themselves: “If I’m wearing jeans on a Friday, I have a more relaxed, less stressful day. If I’m wearing a dress, I might be meeting with a vendor and there’s an expectation that I’m going to perform at a different level.” Even conservative businesses have come to relax their dress code in recent years. We are more frequently seeing the term business-casual in the workplace. This dress code attracts the millennial, making the company younger and providing opportunity for growth, implying that a more relaxed and casual dress code can still encourage the focused and ambitious.

So, has a skater dress or a pair of chinos ever hindered you in developing reports? Do wedges and a summer dress have you counting down the minutes until home time? Or does casual dress allow the employee to be empowered, motivated by freedom of choice and engaged to excel within the workplace? What is dressing for success?

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